Our earliest work with “the count” started in 2004 when we were tasked with providing planning, statistical research, and social research using data derived from the annual census for a few small communities in Massachusetts. This was well before mobile apps were a viable option and instead we had no choice but to use paper forms, clipboards, and tools such as Excel and Access to compile the results.
After the volunteers went home, we were left with the painstaking process of trying to make sense of it all. Deciphering handwriting and understanding shorthand, is a major barrier to tabulating the results from a paper-based count. Volunteers often left off critical information that inevitably put the decision back on us whether to guess what the response was or leave it blank. Count volunteers would also occasionally wander beyond their designated count areas and accidentally count people that someone else already counted.
Back in 2012, while wrapping up the counts for the cities of Quincy and Brockton, MA, we decided it was time to make the move to mobile tech. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognized the viability of this early work by licensing the “Point in Time Counting Tool” app from Simtech and subsequently contracted with us to enhance it even further. The application was revised to meet the exact specifications furnished by fellow HUD Technical Assistance (TA) provider Abt Associates, peer reviewed by TA providers at both the American Institute for Research (AIR) and Cloudburst, and field tested in San Diego, Boston, and Los Angeles prior to being published in both the App Store and Google Play.
Simtech has built upon this work with HUD through the release of the Counting Us mobile app and the Point in Time Regional Command Center that it is integrated with. Our tools are now helping regions throughout the country to automate their annual point in time counts. In addition to supporting automated PIT counts in forty-seven (47) regions across the US in 2019, the technology is also being used to support a rapid-response to natural disasters. For example, Texas Balance of State and Houston were able to quickly deploy the app to help triage over two-thousand people who had become homeless due to the flooding as a result of hurricane Harvey.
The feedback received from community partners has been instrumental in helping us continuously refine and enhance our technical framework. We are now providing additional features and services that extend well beyond what can be found within a basic surveying tool. Our connection with clients and their work, technical acumen, understanding of the ever-changing Federal requirements, and our passion for being part of the effort to help end homelessness are what differentiate us from the rest.
The image of the Regional Command Center, shown below, highlights the broad adoption of the Counting Us app to automate PIT counts throughout the country. Contact us if your region has interest in joining the ranks that have embraced tech to automate the annual homeless count.